New material added

Another letter from Stephen Wilcox written prior to the Battle of Chancellorsville was added to the site today. Thanks once more to Paul Keroack from the Norwalk History Room at the Norwalk (CT) Public Library for finding this letter and transcribing it for addition to the site.

Status update and new content

It’s been a long summer with a lot of different things happening – all of which show by the lack of content posted since June. Hopefully the fall season will allow for more frequent updates and additional content. By the end of the day I expect that there will be some new material (as in letters and photographs) that have been provided by Eric Johnson and Paul Keroack – thanks to both for their contributions! So far, there are additional Ruscoe letters online as well as a postwar photograph, some photos from the later veterans reunions (1929, to be specific) and a great Gettysburg-content letter from Corporal Aaron Lee.

Hopefully this will be a fall and winter with regular updates – always made easier when there is new material to add coming in from you, the visitor!

The 17th Connecticut and the National Weather Service

What do the 17th Connecticut and the National Weather Service have in common?

Henry Eugene Williams.


1st Sergeant Henry E. Williams grave marker at Arlington National Cemetery.

1st Sergeant Henry E. Williams grave marker at Arlington National Cemetery.

Henry Williams was an 18-year-old teacher living in Bethel, CT when he enlisted as H. Eugene Williams in Company C of the 17th in July 1862 and mustered in as Corporal. Williams served throughout the war with the 17th, rising to the rank of 1st Lieutenant (although not mustered in as such) by the time he mustered out with the regiment 3 years later. Williams was captured at Chancellorsville. By the end of the war he often found himself in command of Company C while still a 1st Sergeant.

Following the end of the war, Williams stayed in uniform, enlisting in the Regular Army and remaining there until 1876. After leaving the Army, Williams enlisted in the US Army Signal Corps, where he was assigned to the new “Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce.” The mandate of the division, as stated by a Joint Resolution of Congress, was “…to provide for taking meteorological observations at the military stations in the interior of the continent and at other points in the States and Territories…and for giving notice on the northern (Great) lakes and on the seacoast by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms.”

As related in a summary of his career published by the War Department’s Office of the Chief Signal Officer upon Williams’ 1920 retirement, “…the greater portion of Mr. Williams’s tour of duty in the meteorological service was spent in the Forecast Division of the central office in Washington. While not himself a forecaster, being chiefly concerned with administrative matters in connection with the division, he had the unique experience of a close up view of the forecasting activities of the Army Signal Corps and the civilian organization the United States Weather Bureau that succeeded it in 1891. He was assistant chief of the Weather Bureau from July 1, 1903 to June 30, 1912.” This included a stint as an instructor at Fort Myer (then known as Fort Whipple and now known as Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall) during the 1880s, where Williams became well-known for the grey mule he commuted from Georgetown on each day.

Williams wrote a history of the Weather Bureau in 1916, as well as another volume titled “Temperatures Injurious to Food Products in Storage and During Transportation, and Methods of Protection from the Same” in 1896.

All told, Williams spent a combined 52 years and 4 months in military and civil service, 44 of which were spent in the Weather Service. He died on March 28, 1930 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 17, Grave 21639 – very near old Fort Myer, where he spent so many years in the service of his country. His gravestone carries his last confirmed rank from his Civil War service with the 17th CVI more than 60 years earlier.


Words cannot describe…

…my initial reaction to this headline:

“Skull of Civil War soldier found at Gettysburg to be auctioned”

The short version of the story is that the skull was found near the “Benner’s Farm” in 1949 and it was expected to sell for $50,000 to $250,00o to a collector. Really? From Katie Lawhorn, the spokesperson for Gettysburg National Military Park – “very unfortunate.”

Benner Farm looking south

Benner Farm looking south/Dale Call photo

Assuming that the skull was found near the Josiah Benner farm – where 4 companies of the 17th CVI fought on July 1st and which served as a field hospital during the battle, and given the article’s description of the various Civil War artifacts found in close proximity to the skull, then it is not a stretch to imagine that the skull belonged to a soldier who fell during that portion of the battle. Not that this really mattered.

But – somewhere good taste, common sense and basic decency prevailed, because an hour ago the following story appeared in the online edition of the York (PA) Daily Record:

“Auction company says it will donate Gettysburg soldier’s remains”

Allegedly to the National Park Service. From the newer article:

“In the 20 years Lawhon has worked in Gettysburg, she’s never heard of soldier remains being for sale.

“In the past, there have been humans remains that have come into our possession,” she said.

The park doesn’t participate in archeological digs, as it believes all the battlegrounds are burial places for soldiers. The only exception would be if remains were disturbed, she said. In 1996, heavy rains along a railroad embankment disturbed human remains that were buried nearby, Lawhon said.

An expert from the Smithsonian Institute found lead splatter on the cranium of the young man, believed to have died in his 20s, she added.

He was buried on what they believe was the anniversary of his death based on what battles took place where he was found, Lawhon said.

“If we came into possession of the remains (in Hagerstown), we would do the same,” she said.

The sale of a Civil War soldier’s skull illustrates the need to preserve places such as Gettysburg, Lawhon said. The reason it was dedicated as a national park was to keep such things from happening.

“I think the right thing to do is get (the remains) to us,” she said, “and that’s what I hope happens.”

I think we all hope that is what happens.